News-Letter Nr. 590

Conflict in the Indigenous Land of the Xavante People in Mato Grosso is Imminent

The conflict in the Mara-Watsédé indigenous land in the municipality of Alto da Boa Vista in Mato Grosso, around 1,000km from Cuiabá, involving the Xavante people and invaders is causing ever greater concern. Ever since last Wednesday (November 12) the threat of conflict has been imminent.

More than 400 indigenous people are camped out on the road that leads up to the land. On the other hand, armed invaders are stopping them from getting past. Only a knocked-down bridge separates the two sides.

Yesterday, 10 more Federal Police agents arrived in the region, eight had already been transferred there last week. The president of Funai, Mércio Pereira Gomes, also went there last week to talk to the indigenous people in an attempt to stave off a greater conflict.

According to Edson Beirez, the Funai administrator in Goiânia, who is at the site, the situation is very tense. Over the nine days that the indigenous people have been camping out, they have suffered continuous provocation by the invaders. "This entire mobilization by the invaders is being backed by the City Hall: transport, food and drink, everything". Beiriz states that ranchers from the region who are interested in the 170,000 hectare piece of land, have had their gunmen infiltrate the squatters to cause further unrest. "The majority of those camped on the other side are not squatters, they are the ranchers' goons. There is a lot of political and economic interest involved", he said.

In compensation, the Xavante communities in the region are ready to help out. Many have already gone to the area. "My worry is that with the climate of conflict and the arrival of more indigenous people, the situation will get out of control", he said.

The Xavantes claim ownership of the land which has already been homologated, and depends only on the decision of the judge from the Court of the 5th Federal Jurisdiction of Cuiabá for the squatters to be removed from the land so that the indigenous people can return. In 2001, the Court of the 5th Federal Jurisdiction of Cuiabá granted the squatters an injunction which allowed them to remain in area until the case was judged.

On November 16, the judge José Pires da Cunha, of this court, made a decision which did not satisfy the interests of the indigenous people. This decision authorized the Federal Police to enter the area with only four indigenous people as inspectors. "The indigenous people do not accept this decision. They have decided that they will only leave the camp to enter the land. If the judge does not accept this, they will either remain where they are or will enter by force". Yesterday (November 19), another decision taken by the judge determined that the Federal Police should disarm the site. "I decree that the Federal Police Department should check to see if there is illegal ownership of arms by those occupying the indigenous lands. For this purpose, the Federal Police is authorized to enter the houses in the area".

Beiriz believes that disarming the squatters is one of the solutions for avoiding conflict, "another solution would be to comb the area, removing anyone who is not a squatter", he said.

The climate is very tense and the population of the city is being mobilized against the indigenous people, who are the legitimate landowners. In the view of Cimi, disarming the squatters is a step in the right direction, but it is not decisive. It has been proven that the land has traditionally been occupied by indigenous people, in view of the fact that it is already homologated and registered. It is, therefore, the role of the justice system to not only judge this case, but also to guarantee the indigenous people exclusive ownership and use of the land as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

House of Deputies' Human Rights Comission Issues its Report on the Situation of the Indigenous People in Brazil

On issuing, last Tuesday (November 18) in the National Congress, the report of the Caravan that visited indigenous areas in situations of conflict in seven Brazilian states, the House of Deputies' Human Rights Commission (CDH) revealed the difficult times that the indigenous people in Brazil are living in.

The indifference and ignorance with which the State deals with this issue are registered throughout the document and are highlighted in the first paragraphs of the report. "On several occasions the CDH was discouraged - by federal and state authorities - from going to visit the settlements on the grounds that the indigenous people were 'dangerous' and 'unpredictable'. In fact, these arguments hide the fact that the white authorities find it difficult to know how to listen to the indigenous people", the document claims.

The Caravan which takes place every year with different themes, also admitted that that it recognized that the issue of the indigenous people had never been given its due attention by the CDH. "The communities were surprised by our presence and stated that they had never before been listened to as they were by this Caravan", stated the PTB deputy, Pastor Reinaldo, who was a member of the Caravan.

Orlando Fantazzini, deputy for the PT and member of the commission, believes that, in spite of the historical divide, this is an opportune moment which is ideal for drawing attention to the issue of indigenous people. "Even knowing that during his political career, Lula has given guarantees to the indigenous people, we feel that the indigenous policy of the government has been pushed to one side," the deputy said.

Non-compliance with the 1988 Constitution, which set a period of five years for all the indigenous lands in Brazil to have been demarcated and homologated, and the indiscriminate actions of invaders in these areas were identified as the main reasons for the violence suffered by the indigenous people.

As well as dealing with the conflicts and land issues, the report lists other problems faced by the indigenous people such as prejudice, environmental decay, lack of safety, precarious medical services and the lack of a differentiated educational policy. At the end of the document, the report makes recommendations to the legislative, judicial and executive authorities so that the human and constitutional rights of the indigenous people are respected.

The deputy César Medeiros of the PT remembered that "if for the indigenous people, this was an opportunity to shout out and vent their feelings", it is up to the public authorities and society "to hear this warning and show solidarity for these people, banishing any form of prejudice that may exist".

Brasília, 20 November 2003
Cimi - Indianist Missionary Council

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